(Jerusalem)– The Palestinian Authority should order an immediate and impartial investigation into alleged police beatings and arbitrary arrests of demonstrators in Ramallah on July 28, 2013. Police injured about 10 protesters and arrested 5, including 3 who were forcibly removed from a hospital where they had received emergency treatment. At least one policeman appears to have suffered injuries needing hospital treatment.
Several hundred people gathered in downtown Ramallah in the West Bank on the afternoon of July 28 to demonstrate against the US-brokered resumption of final-status talks between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel. When regular and riot police blocked their route, protesters shouted and some threw sticks and later stones. The police responded with apparent excessive force, striking protesters, including those demonstrating peacefully, with batons, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. A member of parliament who was among the demonstrators told Human Rights Watch that police pushed her to the ground and beat her.
“The police beat protesters and then arrested injured people, some even from the hospital,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “The Palestinian Authority needs to make clear to the police that this is no way to handle a demonstration.”
Human Rights Watch previously documented incidents of Palestinian Authority police violence against protesters in Ramallah in June and July 2012.
The Palestinian Authority should conduct a transparent and impartial investigation and publish its findings, as well as details of any disciplinary measures taken against police officers, Human Rights Watch said.
Police released the five detained protesters early on the morning of July 29.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a left-wing political party, called the July 28 demonstration and planned march from the Orthodox Club in downtown Ramallah to the Palestinian Authority’s presidential compound, the Muqata’a. Demonstrators told Human Rights Watch that they were unarmed and had been marching peacefully when police blocked their route. When some demonstrators then began throwing sticks, the police attacked the protesters.
Videos of the demonstration that were posted on YouTube show some demonstrators pushing against police who were carrying riot shields. A video filmed by Watan TV, a local television station, shows police officers pushing a middle-aged woman and tearing down a banner held by two other women. A second video shows police beating demonstrators without apparent provocation. Later in the video, some demonstrators can be seen throwing stones at the police, while other demonstrators urge them to stop. Some are seen placing an olive branch as a symbol of peace on the ground in front of the police.
Khalida Jarrar, a PFLP member of the Palestinian parliament, told Human Rights Watch that riot police “with batons and riot shields” and municipal police prevented the marchers from approaching the Muqata’a, and injured 10 protesters:
The demonstrators were trying to get past the barrier when the attack started. I was talking to one of the policemen when I was shoved to the ground and they hit me hard while I was on the ground. When I got to the hospital [for treatment] some of the injured had been arrested and were in the police van. The police in the hospital were taking people’s IDs.
Haneen Nassar, a participant in the march, told Human Rights Watch that “the riot police attacked us with batons” at the police barrier along the road to the Muqata’a:
I was hit, including on the head. At Ramallah Hospital the police wanted everyone’s ID. I said to them, “I have no name.” They said, “If you have no name, you get no treatment.” They told me to come with them to a police room in the hospital, but then they actually took me to the police van outside before letting me go.
Muhannad Alazzeh, a researcher for Addameer, a human rights group, told Human Rights Watch that he arrived shortly before police dispersed the demonstration, and then went to Ramallah’s main hospital:
When I arrived at the hospital one of the injured demonstrators, a young man, was already in a police vehicle outside. In the emergency room I saw two people who had been injured, Haneen Nassar and Ali Hamdallah, who had blood on his shirt, and his head was bandaged. The police were at the hospital trying to arrest the injured. As soon as Ali had received emergency care, the police took him. The police – some in uniform, some not – were demanding the IDs of those who were injured and of those asking after them. There were also three or four riot police [at the hospital] who said they were accompanying a riot policeman who was injured.
Alazzeh and other witnesses said that police arrested Ali Hamdallah, Fayeq Mara’i, and Seif Hamdallah at the hospital. Photographs taken by Alazzeh at the hospital show Ali Hamdallah with a bandaged head and blood-spattered shirt, and another shows him sitting in a van marked “Police.”
Jamal Nazzal, an official spokesman for Fatah, the dominant Palestinian political faction in the West Bank, and a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, wrote on his Facebook page that “a clique of PFLP acolytes” had “come to storm the presidential palace,” and “learned a valuable lesson in democracy.” Nazzal posted a video of the demonstration, commenting: “Enjoy this video in which Palestinian forces exercise their legal right to break the heads [of] a mob […].”
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provides that law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. The legitimate objective should be achieved with minimal damage and injury.
The European Union Police Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EUPOL-COPPS) provides training to the Palestinian civil police forces.
“The Palestinian Authority and its foreign donors should not accept a police force that beats protesters without punishment,” Porteous said.